“Car Kingdom” Gunma Bewildered by National Directive that Bicyclists Must Use Street Even if Sidewalk is Empty

Typical Gunma Traffic: Road Full, Sidewalk Empty
A specially designed bicycle lane in Maebashi City on November 5. There are few pedestrians on the adjacent sidewalk, but the road to the left is full of automobiles.

“Car Kingdom” Gunma Bewildered by National Directive that Bicyclists Must Use Street Even if Sidewalk is Empty
Yomiuri Shimbun: 歩道ガラガラでも自転車は車道…困惑の車王国
November 6, 2011

The Gunma Police Department is launching a prefecture-wide investigation of the state of its roads after receiving notification from the national police that bicycles must use the same roads as automobiles.

In large cities like Tokyo with many pedestrians, it would be dangerous for bicycles to use the sidewalks, but in an automobile-dependent community like Gunma, there are many walkways with no one walking on them, and people are complaining about the order to strictly enforce the country’s one-size-fits-all regulation.

The police memo is called “General Bicycle Traffic Policy” and is dated October 25. It was sent to the police departments of every prefecture, and it states that given the recent boom in bicycle usage, police officers should enforce national traffic law considering bicycles the equivalent of automobiles in order to prevent accidents between cyclists and pedestrians.

Many police have been overlooking the presence of bicycles on sidewalks, where they are forbidden to travel unless the trail is wider than two meters and specifically designated for them.

The National Police has redefined the standard for bicycle lanes as “3 meters or wider” and reemphasized the law in order to protect pedestrians. It also directs police departments to consider decreasing the number of automobile lanes in order to create new bicycle lanes marked off with colored lines.

After the Gunma Police received the notice at the end of October, it ordered each local police department to investigate the conditions on the roads and sidewalks adjacent to its 1885 bicycle paths, which total 2356 kilometers in length. Besides recording the width and number of pedestrians on each sidewalk, the police were requested to check the amount of space available on the sides of adjacent roads for new bicycle lanes.

The department plans to finish its study by the end of the year and implement a concrete response at the beginning of the new year. It is sounding out various strategies, such as establishing new bicycle lanes or eliminating striped safety areas between automobile lanes in order to make room on the margins for bicycles. The project is expected to take years, and municipalities will have to request budget increases to match their projects.

The national notice says each police department has the discretion to decide how to balance principles and local circumstances.

But in Gunma Prefecture, called “Car Kingdom” because it has the highest rate of automobiles per capita, the directive has left drivers and cyclists bewildered. A 17-year old Maebashi City male who cycles to and from school says that “cars have brushed my body during rush hour before. I don’t want to ride on the road because it’s frightening.” A 33-year old housewife who drives every day says “it’s dangerous to have bikes on the same road as cars.”

According to national statistics, last year there were 2760 bicycle-and-pedestrian accidents, a 50% increase over the 1827 accidents recorded in 2000. 30 of the 2010 accidents were in Gunma, roughly equal to the 35 recorded there in 2000. But the prefecture had more than 100 times as many bicycle-and-automobile accidents: 3136. The prefectural police are anxious: “Gunma is different from big cities. There’s no one on the sidewalks, but the roads are soaked with cars. Won’t forcing bicycles onto the roads cause even more accidents?” (Emphasis added by translator)












(2011年11月6日12時45分 読売新聞)

Explore posts in the same categories: Japan, Law, Translations

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: